Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla
I only found one historical report of an Ovenbird in reviewing decades of published observations; it was of one reported by Julie Cocke on 28 May 1989 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). Ovenbirds are essentially an early fall to summer species, but can be incredibly uncommon in winter. In spring, they tend to arrive in numbers by the second week of April and are virtually gone by the third week of May. By mid-August they are back and peak again from 15 September through the third week of October. There is usually at least one report each winter. Look or listen for them on the wooded trails at Reddie Point Preserve, Fort George Island, Cedar Point Preserve, Theodore Roosevelt Area and Hanna Park.
Worm-eating Warbler Helmitheros vermivorum
The earliest report of Worm-eating Warbler is also one of the very few winter observations, coming from 26 December 1953 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). The next known historical report was from 12 April 1979. The species is fairly common in spring migration; much less so in fall. They typically arrive in early to mid-April, peaking around the fifteenth and are usually gone by the end of the first week of May. There are a couple early fall records from August, but most fall reports are from the month of September, peaking around the eighteenth of that month. In addition to obvious migration hot spots, my favorite place to look for this particular species is the wooded trail at Fort Caroline National Memorial. Head there in mid-April and hang out around ‘Marker 15’, where the trail is actually elevated above the forest floor allowing you the rare opportunity to see warblers at or below eye level.
Louisiana Waterthrush Parkesia motacilla
Louisiana Waterthrush is a notoriously early migrant in both seasons and is more abundant in “fall”. In spring, you should look for them as early as 7 March and scrutinize any suspects by 5 April to ensure they’re not Northerns. In “fall”, the Fourth of July kicks off my annual Louisiana blitz and I start combing the four mile loop drive on Fort George Island almost nightly looking for them. Yes, they can be found in other obvious habitats at the local hot spots (oddly enough, zero reports from Reddie Point Preserve through 2015), but none better than the dirt roads of Fort George in either the morning or evening. If there is enough rain to create a puddle, head there immediately after and make the slow drive around the island. This routine produced the highest known count of the species to date – Roger Clark and I tallied six at one time there on 12 July 2014 following a heavy storm. I’m not aware of any verifiable records of the species after mid-September through 1 March.
Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis
Years of observations suggest Northern Waterthrush is significantly more abundant than Louisiana, and while their arrival overlaps a bit, they are certainly the more expected of the two beginning in early April and anytime after 1 September. There have been a few reported in late March, but their arrival is really expected around mid-April continuing through mid-May; one early late spring record is from 28 May 1961 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). “What is an early late spring record”, you ask? It’s the oldest “late” date in the spring season, of course! Their numbers are almost equal in fall, peaking from mid-September through the first week of October. This species doesn’t seem to discriminate in terms of hitting all the hot spots – including Reddie Point Preserve.
My advice: if you see a Waterthrush here in March it’s likely a Louisiana and you should be prepared to make a strong case otherwise. If you see one after mid-April through 1 June, be prepared to make case why it isn’t a Northern. In July, you ought to have a picture if you report a Northern.
Golden-winged Warbler Vermivora chrysoptera
Golden-winged Warbler is a maddening species for me because it’s regular and reasonable enough to see here but has eluded me to date. The oldest record is from 1 October 1972 followed by 6 October 1980 (Atherton & Atherton, 1981), 26 September 1983 (Atherton & Atherton, 1984), 5 September 1987 (Atherton & Atherton, 1988), and 2 May 1989 (Langridge, 1989). That May report is the only known spring report of the species.
In “modern times”, observations include 5 October 1991, 21 September 1999, 13 October 2007, 29 September 2013, 1 and 7 October 2015, 9 October 2016, 5 October 2017, 10 October 2017, and 4 October 2018.
I mentioned this species has been a bit maddening for me, case in point – the 13 October 2007 bird was observed in the evening after a day-long local Audubon field trip led by Roger Clark that wound up at his infamous backyard drip on Fort George Island. I made the classic blunder of leaving just a tad bit early that night, which we all know means the Bird of the Day will arrive at that moment for everyone else. By the time I got home some ten minutes after leaving his house, he called to tell me they were all looking at a Golden-winged in the evening dusk.
Based on the known observations and what I’ve outlined above, I’d suggest keeping an eye out the latter part of September through the peak of migration, really focusing on around 7-12 October. Golden-wingeds seem to favor the mature old-growth oak hammocks so concentrate at Fort George Island, Theodore Roosevelt, Spanish Pond, Fort Caroline, and perhaps Cedar Point Preserve.
Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora cyanoptera
Blue-winged Warbler is a fairly rare migrant that is more likely in fall than spring, and produces roughly one observation in the county each year. If it provides any perspective, I do a tremendous amount of birding in the county and haven’t seen one here since 2010 – I’m either that unlucky or they really are that uncommon. To that point, there are only a couple “old” reports of the species, the first coming from Bill Chitty and John White who noted one on 24 April 1966 (Cunningham, 1966) and the next on 29 August 1983 (Atherton & Atherton, 1984).
In the “modern era”, spring observations include 28 April 2007, 18 April 2010, 17 April 2013, 19 April 2014, and 16 April 2019, suggesting the third week of April is the time to search for them. Fall observations include 2 October 1999, 23 and 30 September 2006, 21 and 26 September 2014, 6 and 7 September 2015, and 21 September 2018, so target the latter half of September in fall. Almost all known reports are from three locations: Fort George Island, Reddie Point Preserve, and Theodore Roosevelt Preserve; I’d stick with those and perhaps Cedar Point Preserve when looking for them.
Golden-winged x Blue-winged Warbler
There are a handful of reports of “Brewster’s” warbler and just two of the more rare backcross hybrid, “Lawrence’s”. “Brewster’s” observations include 14 August 1964 (Stevenson, 1964), 19 September 1984 (Atherton & Atherton, 1985), 16-19 September 1998 (Pranty, 1999), and 1 October 2003 (Pranty, 2004). “Lawrence’s” sightings include 2 October 1999 (Pranty, 2000) and 9 October 2005 by Roger Clark.
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia
The first report of Black-and-white Warbler is from 15 December 1933 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994), and an old summer report is from 10 July 1976. They are a fairly expected species when doing any kind of woodland birding in fall, winter, and spring, and can even be found in less densely populated woods (or small groups of trees) around office parks and neighborhoods. They don’t seem to discriminate in terms of habitat or areas of the county, and can be found pretty much anywhere throughout Jacksonville.
Perhaps because of their commonality, many local birders don’t realize that Black-and-white Warblers are not to be expected during a brief period in the summer from the third week of May through about 1 August. They do occur occasionally in July but virtually never in June (there are no verifiable June records). The best windows of time to look for them: 10 April through 1 May and 15 September through 15 October.
Prothonotary Warbler Protonotaria citrea
Prothonotary Warbler is a limited breeding species in the county with nesting records extending back to 4 May 1935 when Grimes collected eggs from at least one nest (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). They are extraordinarily rare in winter with maybe a handful of winter reports, including one on 30 December 1973 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). They normally arrive in the area the last week of March and are most often observed through the second week of May. In fall, reports spike from mid-August through the last week of September and are gone by the first week of October.
In migration, look for them at any of the wooded hot spots like Reddie Point Preserve or Fort George Island. In breeding season, look or listen for them deep in Seaton Creek Historic Preserve, Thomas Creek Preserve and Fish Camp around the little dock, or along the creek at Julington-Durbin Creek Preserve. Their remaining breeding habitat is very limited, so please refrain from using playback to call them out – it is unnecessary, as you will see them with a little patience and will get to hear their beautiful song live and in person.
Swainson’s Warbler Limnothylpis swainsonii
Swainson’s Warbler is an extremely difficult species to find in Duval County despite the fact they were once (and perhaps still are) a breeding species here. Sam Grimes did some study on the breeding population of Swainson’s and collected eggs from a nest as far back as 18 June 1935 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). Literature suggests that their preferred breeding habitat is “cane”, but there is an account in the Auk (1935) of Grimes demonstrating them on territory on 3 April singing in “caneless woods where its prominent companions were Hooded Warblers and (not yet arrived) Acadian Flycatchers”.
In the early 1990’s Peggy Powell noted breeding hadn’t been detected since the mid-1970’s, and on 27 April 2005, Noel Wamer reported just his second observation for Duval County and noted the species formerly nested “many years ago in the swamps along Thomas Creek that is the northern boundary of the county”.
Finding one anywhere in the county is a tremendous observation, and on 1 May 2016 I found two Swainson’s singing vociferously around 10:30AM deep in Sample Swamp on the north side. On 28 May 2018, Marie and I were kayaking up Thomas Creek and heard another singing about a mile from the launch. There have been several scattered reports from 2015-2020 in other parts of the county, but none have been supported by audio or a photograph, leading me to believe the reports are not very credible (despite them being confirmed in eBird).
In summary – Swainson’s Warbler used to nest here but breeding hasn’t been confirmed in decades. While there is limited accessible habitat remaining, I have long believed there is still a distinct possibility they still breed here as much of the Thomas Creek “corridor” remains intact today. I think suitable habitat is deep in Seaton Creek Historic Preserve or along Thomas Creek “upstream” from the dock where I’ve heard one singing in May.
Other observations are very scarce and include nineteen found dead at the TV towers downtown on 8 October 1957 and a sight report on 4 September 1967 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). “Modern” reports include one by Paul Sykes on Fort George Island 10 May 2002 (Pranty, 2002), 17 September 2007 at Theodore Roosevelt Preserve (observer: Dylan Beyer), 16 September 2011, 1 May 2015, 29-30 March 2015 at Spanish Pond, and on 1 May 2016 in North Jacksonville. Other than the 2016 audio recording, there are no known verifiable specimens, photos, or recordings of the species here since the 1957 tower kill.
Tennessee Warbler Oreothlypis peregrina
Tennessee Warbler is a migrant species that is rare in spring and can be variable (but fairly common) in fall. It’s a rather drab and nondescript species that seems to reflect that persona in the record books. There is only one notable report in the literature; an immature bird noted in winter on 5 December 1983 (Hoffman, 1984).
In spring they’ve been known to occur between the first week of April through the first week of May. They’re much more expected in fall, beginning around the second week of September and peaking around 2 October. Early fall migrants may appear as early as the last few days of August, and late ones through around 22 October. They don’t seem to prefer any certain hotspot, but most observations come from Fort George Island and Reddie Point Preserve.
Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata
Orange-crowned Warbler is a winter resident species that can be found during migration, but should not be expected during summer months. The species suffers from being rather drab and thus not considered very “sexy” to many, and a lack of historical observations seems to support that notion. The first documented report is from 12 May 1962, which was perhaps noted as a rather late individual (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). Another early notable is from 13 September 1964; a bird Stevenson (1965) described as “the earliest on the Florida mainland”.
While some Orange-crowneds do arrive in late September, they really shouldn’t be expected until around 15 October and then remain throughout the winter. They’re virtually gone by late March and after April 1st any lingering individuals would be rather remarkable. They don’t seem to favor any particular habitat and can be found fairly reliable when visiting any of the local hot spots from coastal Little Talbot Island State Park to the more inland locations like Westside Industrial Park.
Nashville Warbler Oreothlypis ruficapilla
Nashville Warbler is most likely an annual migrant and winter visitor, but is missed in more years by dedicated birders than seen. Howell (1932) noted a specimen collected way back on 13 March 1869, making it one of the oldest known documented species in any family. That record was also noted at the time as the only known Florida record.
Nashville Warbler seemed to be unknown locally to Grimes and others during the 1920’s and beyond – until January 1972, when one of three noted as wintering in the state occurred here (Stevenson, 1972). This was also thought to be the first winter record. Peggy Powell observed one (singing, no less!) 11-12 April 1983 (Kale, 1983). Julie Cocke reported one on 19 February 1986 (Ogden, 1986), and one occurred at Imeson on 11 November 1994. Cocke had one again from 6 January-25 February 2006 (Anderson, 2006), and another later that year on 11 November 2006. Recent reports include dates of 28 September 2013, 7 October 2015, 19 October 2015, 9 October 2016, 24 March 2017, 18 April 2018, 23 October 2019, and 2 Nov 2019.
Despite the aforementioned accounts, the species is more known as a fall migrant whose peak is from 15 September through the last week of October. Based on a limited dataset, most of those observations seem to occur from 29 September through 23 October, so that would be the most likely time to see one. Reddie Point Preserve, Hanna Park, Fort George Island, and the paved loop trail at Blue Cypress Park are the most obvious places to look.
Connecticut Warbler Oporornis agilis
Connecticut Warbler is an extremely rare species in Duval County and there are just a few reported observations. The first is from 8 October 1964 and another comes from 20 October 1974 (Edscorn, 1975). They are a very late spring migrant, and the three reported spring observations reflect that: 10 May 1995 by Roger Clark, 8 May 2013 by Donald Pridgen, and 9 May 2016 by Graham Williams. All three of these reports come from Theodore Roosevelt Preserve, and the photo Graham submitted in 2016 is in the eBird Hall of Fame as the most awful image ever submitted for confirmation of a species.
Since Connecticuts are known to favor leafy understory, places like Spanish Pond, Theodore Roosevelt Preserve, and the trails of Fort George Island are the places to look.
Mourning Warbler Geothlypis philadelphia
Mourning Warbler is an incredibly rare species in Duval County with just a handful of noted observations. Robertson (1967) noted one seen by Ted Allen on 26 December 1966 as “unprecedented”, which I conclude to mean it was the first county report. Stevenson & Anderson (1994) classified Allen’s observation as “not accepted”.
The only other reports are both from Julie Cocke who reported one from her home on 24 September 1974 (Edscorn, 1975) and again over thirty years later on 4 November 2005 (Pranty, 2006). The species is more abundant in Florida in fall, so the best strategy would be to search for them throughout October and the first week of November in areas with dense undergrowth like the trails of Fort George Island, deep in Seaton Creek Historic Preserve, and Theodore Roosevelt Area.
Kentucky Warbler Geothlypis formosa
It is extremely rare to see a Kentucky Warbler in Duval County in any year or in any season. There is a report only about once every ten to fifteen years, and I’ve only seen one here in over twenty years of birding the area, that bird coming on 29 September 2007. Roger Clark was leading a field trip that day at Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island and took the group over to his backyard, which was famous for the artesian well “drip” that served as a natural, ground-level birdbath. The Kentucky Warbler came in from the side yard and delighted the group of around thirty birders for over twenty minutes. I can recall Roger remarking about the bird’s “Elvis Presley sideburns”; a description I’ll never forget, and similar to his description of an Upland Sandpiper’s “Audrey Hepburn neck”. Classic Clark.
The oldest report for Kentucky Warbler comes from Julie Cocke’s observation on 18-20 May 1985 (Kale, 1985), which is also one of the very few known spring reports. Fall observations include 1 September 1987 (Atherton & Atherton, 1988), 29 September 2001 (R. Clark), 24 September 2003 (R. Clark), 3 October 2006, 3 August 2007, 29 September 2007, and 1 October 2011. Due to their nature, I’d suggest the best places for them might be Seaton Creek Historic Preserve, Theodore Roosevelt Preserve, and Cedar Point. Fort George Island is the obvious choice and most of the known reports are from there.
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Perhaps indicative of its name, the Common Yellowthroat is not very well documented in county history and there are actually no notable reports or breeding accounts even dating back to Grimes’s work in the early part of the 20th century. They are a fairly “common” year-round resident here, and reported observations suggest a migratory movement each spring and fall that supplement the local population. Their numbers seem to surge from the first week of April through the first week of May, and again from 15 September through around 20 October. They can be quite difficult to locate in late July through 1 September, but they are around.
The species is fairly widespread throughout the county, but are most reliable in the coastal areas and hotspots along the Saint Johns River. The males really are spectacular and for some reason aren’t truly “appreciated” by most birders, which is perplexing since those same observers go crazy for a very similar-looking Kentucky Warbler.
Hooded Warbler Setophaga citrina
Hooded Warbler is a summer resident breeding species that can be relatively easy to find in the appropriate habitat. The earliest report is from 8 June 1932, followed by another on 28 April 1936 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). In 1970, Sam Grimes reported they were declining as a breeding species since the 1950’s and found them to be rare in summer by then (Ogden, 1970).
Today, look for them beginning around the first of April at local hotspots like Reddie Point Preserve and Fort George Island. They can be heard singing in dense and often damp wooded areas from mid-April through at least August, and can continue to be found through about the last week of September. They’re very scarce in October, and there are no known winter observations.
Preferred locations to find them are the back trails of Seaton Creek Historic Preserve (see Locations), Theodore Roosevelt Preserve, the Cary State Forest, along Otis Road, and along the Thomas Creek tract.
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
The earliest report of American Redstart I’ve come across is from 12 June 1962, which was probably recorded due to the month of the observation and not because it was the first ever seen here (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). There is also an old winter record from 9 January 1986 (Ogden, 1986). The species is a fairly common and reliable migrant in both spring and fall, where they will tend to migrate back through as early as the last week of July. In spring, look for them in any local hot spot from 10 April through mid-May; in fall from 10 September through 20 October. They peak annually from 15 September to 15 October, where their numbers are almost double what you may encounter in spring.
The highest count is from 8 May 2011 when I observed over four hundred on Fort George Island during a fallout; I estimated over 90% of those seen were adult males. It was a unique situation where the Okefenokee Swamp to the north was on fire and producing significant smoke for weeks. The winds turned on 7 May and pushed strongly from the north, not only forcing migrants down but bringing lots of smoke into the area. I headed to Fort George in the haze one evening and saw hundreds upon hundreds of migrants, including this incredible Redstart spectacle.
Cape May Warbler Setophaga tigrina
Kale (1984) noted a Cape May Warbler reported on 14 March 1984 as an early county record (undoubtedly meaning early in the season). Cape Mays can be found in both spring and fall migration, but they are about four times as abundant in spring. Look for them beginning around the end of the first week of April through the first of May. In fall, they can be scarce but found around 22 September through 20 October with some effort. There are no known summer or winter reports of the species. The classic warbler hot spots like Reddie Point Preserve, Fort George Island, and Spanish Pond are excellent places to view them.
Kirtland’s Warbler Setophaga kirtlandii
There is one documented record of Kirtland’s Warbler in county history, and it’s a bit tough to stomach by today’s standards. In early May 1930 or 1931, Grimes shot one and collected it; apparently this was also his first attempt at preparing a study skin and failed (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). One was reported on 16 April 2020 from Fort George Island, but despite it being “approved” in eBird based on a very poor audio clip, I remain skeptical.
Cerulean Warbler Setophaga cerulea
Cerulean Warbler is either a very rare or just very undetected species in Duval County, with less than ten known observations. Historical reports come from 21 May 1962 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994), 9 May 1977 (Kale, 1977), 13-14 August 1978 (Edscorn, 1979), 24 April 1982 (Kale, 1982), 9 September 1984 (Atherton & Atherton), 25 August 1987 (Atherton & Atherton, 1988), 30 July 2005 (Powell, 2005), 28 September 2008 (Clark), and 8 August 2015 (K. & M. Dailey).
While they are extremely rare in spring, I suspect the species is an uncommon but regular migrant that passes by in the dog days of summer before birders get motivated for the fall migration. Ceruleans are known to migrate through the area in early to mid August, so I think it’s a matter of getting out there and looking in suitable habitat – the old growth oaks at places like Fort George Island and Cedar Point Preserve are perfect (just be prepared for hordes of biting insects). It is as unlikely to see them locally in September or October as it might be to see one in spring, so get out there early in the fall season if you expect to find one.
Northern Parula Setophaga americana
Northern Parula is a common to abundant breeding species in the county, typically arriving the last week of February and remaining through around the third week of October. There is at least one report in the winter season every year or two. Breeding records go back at least as far as Grimes’ observation from 14 April 1930 (Howell, 1932). Other notable early reports include 6 June 1934 and a winter observation from 27 December 1959 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). The species can be found throughout spring, summer, and fall at any of the noted local hot spots.
Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia
Early Magnolia Warbler reports include 27 May 1959, 17 November 1969, and 22 December 1974 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). These were undoubtedly recorded due to the late spring and fall dates, and the December observation is the first known winter report. On 19 May 1985, Julie Cocke observed another late spring migrant (Kale, 1985).
Magnolias are another migrant warbler that is significantly more abundant here in fall than in spring. In fact, there are very few verifiable spring records and one shouldn’t really expect to see them in that season. In fall, they tend to arrive around the third week of September and peak around 15 October. They are statistically gone by Halloween.
Bay-breasted Warbler Setophaga castanea
The first account of Bay-breasted Warbler is from 24 September 1963 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994) with another following on 8 October 1987 (Atherton & Atherton, 1988). The species would be incredibly rare here in spring; in fact I’m aware of no verifiable spring reports in the county’s history and just a couple reports including 20 and 21 April 1975 (Kale, 1975).
In fall, they are also extremely uncommon and are missed more often than seen in most years; I’d say I average seeing them three out of every five years here. The good news is their window of passage is extremely predictable – concentrate on them from 12-19 October, with intense concentration on the 12th through 14th. They seem to favor the tops of oak canopies, which is okay since they’re a relatively large warbler and slow-moving. Along the trail leading from the parking lot at Theodore Roosevelt is good, as is the back marsh loop trail at Reddie Point Preserve.
Blackburnian Warbler Setophaga fusca
Blackburnian Warbler is a fairly uncommon fall migrant that can be missed in more years than observed, even by ardent local birders. One reported on 10 August 1975 was recorded as the earliest arrival in state history at the time (Edscorn, 1976). Other old notable observations include wintering birds reported on 30 December 1972 and 22 December 1974 during the Christmas Bird Count, and a late one noted by Peggy Powell on 26 November 1976 (Edscorn, 1977). It’s worth noting that there are no known accepted spring records (supported by photo or audio) in county history.
Look for Blackburnians from the first of September onward; they peak around 1 October and trickle through the rest of that month. What I like about Blackburnians is that I’ve noticed they tend to forage rather low much of the time, allowing you to enjoy them without crippling your neck scanning the treetops. I’ve often watched them in low vegetation including strands of goldenrod bordering park trails.
Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia
Stevenson and Anderson (1994) include an account of three Yellow Warblers on 1 June 1969, but they should not ever be expected here in the middle of summer. In fall, they arrive in early August and can be best found through September at locations bordering freshwater – think, the willows around Hanna Park’s central lake, the ponds at Westside Industrial Park, and the fringes of ponds at Sheffield Regional Park, Reddie Point Preserve, or M&M Dairy. They are much less common in spring, but can be found with some effort from late February through early May. Most observations are from 7-21 September. On 8 January 2017, Jeffrey Graham provided the first winter record of the species at Westside Industrial Park.
Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophaga pensylvanica
Chestnut-sided Warbler is extremely unlikely in spring but can be found each fall with a bit of effort. It’s also one of the warblers that may occur occasionally in winter. The earliest report is from Ray Edwards on 13 October 1968; known winter reports include 18 January 1972, 25-28 December 1987 (Ogden, 1987), and 3 December 1998-February 1999 (West & Anderson, 1999). Julie Cocke noted a rather late fall migrant on 4 November 1984 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994) and an early fall migrant was one I reported from Reddie Point Preserve following a front on 7 September 2014. There is one unverified spring report from the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens on 24 April 2014, and one each (verified) in the spring of 2017 and 2019.
In fall, start looking for them around the middle of September through mid-October; they peak around 15 October locally. Any of the local migrant hot spots will work for this species, particularly Reddie Point Preserve.
Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata
Blackpoll Warbler is a common to abundant late spring migrant that unfortunately has the reputation of being the bearer of bad news – they are often regarded as the messengers that signal spring migration is over. They are extremely rare in fall and shouldn’t really be expected in that season, but there are a handful of fall reports including 8 October 1964 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994) and Graham Williams’ record of one on 13 November 2015. Look for them in any of the local hot spots after 15 April, then they peak around 8 May. They are virtually gone by 1 June. On 8 May 2011, I observed over two-hundred fifty Blackpolls on Fort George Island along with the aforementioned American Redstart fallout; this is certainly the highest reported total of the species in county history.
Black-throated Blue Warbler Setophaga caerulescens
Black-throated Blue Warblers are fairly common spring and fall migrants that have also been known to occur in late fall and winter. Early winter records include 22 December 1968 on the Christmas Bird Count, 28 November 1970 (Stevenson & Anderson), 4 November 1984 by Peggy Powell, (Atherton & Atherton, 1985), and 7-9 November 1989 by Julie Cocke (Atherton & Atherton, 1989).
In spring, begin looking for them around 5 April through 10 May, and in fall from 7 September through the last week of October. They’re equally abundant in each season’s migration and are well-spread throughout the county. You’re sure to see one at places like Fort George Island or Reddie Point Preserve.
Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum
Palm Warbler is a wintering species that can be found starting in fall around mid-September, and although their abundance peaks on 15 October, they remain through the first of May. There are no known verifiable summer observations. Both the “western” and “eastern (yellow)” sub-species occur here, and in my experience the “westerns” are significantly more abundant. The “eastern” sub-species tend to be found only in pine forest. Look for Palm Warblers throughout the county in winter, but particularly areas with large grassy fields like Julington-Durbin Preserve, Sheffield Regional Park, Hanna Park, or Ringhaver Park.
Pine Warbler Setophaga pinus
Pine Warbler is a year-round breeding species that can be found in suitable habitat (yes, mainly stands of pine trees) throughout the county. They’ve been known as a breeder since at least 1931 when Grimes published an account of locating a nest one year in early April (Howell, 1932). Stevenson and Anderson (1994) noted three birds on 21 March 1930, but I’m unsure of the context and whether that was meant to indicate early nesting. In winter, I’ve found that Pine Warblers are apt to visit backyard feeders, so if you’re offering suet (not seed) you’re likely to attract some to your domicile.
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
Yellow-rumped Warbler is an extremely abundant winter resident that arrives each year around 15 October and remains through about mid-April. There is one late report from 2 May 1981 (Kale, 1981), but otherwise no reliable summer reports. Yellow-rumped Warbler is perhaps the most abundant and widely distributed of any other species in the county; when they’re “in season” they can be found in numbers in virtually any park, back yard, or green space. They’re quite curious birds and despite their drab winter garb can be very entertaining to observe. Note that all reported observations are of the “Myrtle” variety, there are no known county reports for “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler, which is still considered a state review species in Florida.
Yellow-throated Warbler Setophaga dominica
Yellow-throated Warbler is a fairly common breeding species that can be found year-round in suitable habitat. Early breeding records include 14 April 1933 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994) and before that – Cory noted a nest with four eggs on 28 April 1880 (Howell, 1932).
Yellow-throated Warblers can be quite difficult to find from mid-November through February, but if you bird areas with old growth oak and plenty of spanish moss, you’re sure to stand a good chance of finding them. In late February they start singing on territory and are easily found from March through the first of June. They can be a little harder to find in the heat of the summer months, but observations pick back up through the fall season. Places like Fort George Island, Theodore Roosevelt, Fort Caroline, Cedar Point Preserve and Hanna Park are all very favorable.
Prairie Warbler Setophaga discolor
Prairie Warblers are a regular and common migrant that can also be found with some difficulty in winter. Stevenson (1982) included a wintering bird in his report that was observed intermittently from 12 January to 1 February 1982, and since then there is about one winter report each year.
An early spring migrant on 11 March 1960 was unusual (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994), as they tend to arrive about ten days after that each year and pass through until the first week of May. They are also extremely uncommon in summer, but Virge Markgraf had two singing on Black Hammock Island on 20 June 1976; Ogden (1976) noted there was no known nesting record here which remains true today.
In fall, begin looking for them around 1 August through 1 November. They are roughly equivalent in terms of abundance in spring and fall. Prairie Warblers are another migrant that can be found throughout the county in virtually any of the places you’ll find yourself birding.
Black-throated Gray Warbler Setophaga nigrescens
There is but a single report of the extremely rare Black-throated Gray Warbler in county history. Noel Wamer noted one in 1973 that wintered here through at least 2 January 1974 (Stevenson, 1974). No precise details beyond that are available.
Black-throated Green Warbler Setophaga virens
Black-throated Green Warbler is an uncommon spring migrant and is somewhat uncommon in fall. In spring, observations span from around 13 April to 1 May, and in fall the best time to look for them is beginning 20 September through the month of October, with the 20th through the 30th of October really being the peak. In addition to being an uncommon migrant, the species is also a very uncommon winter species, producing a number of winter records – the first being 28 December 1971 through 10 March 1972 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). Other winter records include 5 December 1973 – 14 January 1974 (Stevenson, 1974), 3 December 1975 – 4 March 1976 (Stevenson, 1976), 1979-1980 (Stevenson, 1980), 1982-83 (Hoffman, 1983), 8 December 1985 – 12 January 1986 (Ogden, 1986), 26 December 1993 (West, Wamer, & Pranty, 1994), 14 December 1998 – 8 February 1999 (West & Anderson, 1999), and 30 December 2000 (Anderson, 2001).
Black-throated Green Warblers occur most regularly in the eastern part of the county, and seem to favor old growth coastal oak hammocks. The trails on Big Talbot Island State Park, Fort George Island, and Hanna Park are probably your best opportunities along with Theodore Roosevelt Preserve and the fringes of Reddie Point Preserve near the river.
Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis
Canada Warbler is another incredibly rare species in the county, and thus is not one I can provide much advice on targeting. The earliest record is of a specimen collected on 16 September 1964 (Stevenson, 1965), followed by one reported on the Christmas Bird Ccount on 26 December 1971. Peggy Powell reported one at a birdbath on 19 September 1986 (Atherton & Atherton, 1987), and another was reported on Fort George Island 13 October 1991 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). Julie Cocke reported one from her yard on 9 May 2007 and again on 1 October 2011. Recent reports include one at Theodore Roosevelt Area on 16 September 2017 and another at Hanna Park from 30 September through 8 October 2019.
My best advice is to ‘expect’ them more in fall, and based on observations across the state I’d suggest they peak between 20 September and 3 October each year, so be extra vigilant around that time.
Wilson’s Warbler Cardellina pusilla
Wilson’s Warbler is a very uncommon – but perhaps annual – migrant and winter visitor. Based on the historical records that follow, they seem to occur mostly at backyard birdbaths and around the fringes of freshwater ponds. The first one I saw in the county was actually in the small woods behind the house at Kingsley Plantation, so just keep in mind they can really show up anywhere.
The earliest report is of a bird Virge Markgraf observed from 10-19 November 1973 (Stevenson, 1973), followed by Sam Grimes’ bird on 11 October 1975 (Edscorn, 1976). Edscorn (1978) noted a bird reported by Grimes, Markgraf, and Powell on 24 August 1977 as the earliest in Florida. Cocke had one winter from 3 December 1981 to 27 March 1982 (Stevenson, 1982), and again the following year departing on 10 April 1983 (Kale, 1983). Atherton and Atherton (1984) include a note of one “remaining until” 19 November 1983. Clark had one on 20 September 1986, and Cocke had one from 21-29 September 1989 (West, 1990) and again on 8 October 1995 (Wamer & Pranty, 1996).
Since 2000, dates include 12 October 2000 (Powell’s yard), 12 September 2005 (Wamer’s yard), 14 February 2006 off San Clerc Road, 6 April 2013, 5 and 22 September 2015, 17-24 October 2015, and a wintering bird 23 November 2015-14 January 2016. The species has been recorded at least annually since 2016.
Most of these observations are of single birds; the only higher count is from Reddie Point Preserve when two were reported as seen together from 22-24 October 2015.
Yellow-breasted Chat Icteria virens
Yellow-breasted Chat is a very uncommon spring migrant and very localized breeding species in the county. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) noted two as long ago as 27 May 1961, but they undoubtedly occurred long before that time. It’s a bit of a mystery to me why the species was seemingly unknown to Grimes during his breeding surveys in the 1920’s-50’s.
In 1970, Ogden included one from 7 July in an area west of Dinsmore and noted they were “considered rare in interior Duval County”. Another was reported from Kingsley Plantation on 4 June 1973, and Rex Rowan observed two singing at Cedar Point Preserve on 4 May 1996, with one “doing the flight song”. I didn’t record one here until Roger Clark and I happened across a singing one at Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park on 4 May 2007. Other observations include 5 May 2007, 6-21 June 2010 in the Pine Lakes subdivision along north Main Street, 8 March-26 April 2014 at Reddie Point Preserve, and a vociferously singing one at Eastport from 3-31 May 2015.
It’s worth summarizing that while the species is seen in spring migration and during the early breeding season, nothing is known locally about their distribution and abundance beyond the first week of July; there are no documented observations beyond that date through the rest of the fall or winter seasons. Look and listen for them at Pumpkin Hill, Cedar Point, Eastport Wastelands, and areas like Seaton Creek Historical Preserve.